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Deleon v. Dollar Tree Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 30, 2017

BETHZAIDA DELEON, Plaintiff,
v.
DOLLAR TREE STORES, INC., Defendant.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS THE COMPLAINT OR STAY PROCEEDINGS AND COMPEL ARBITRATION

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Bethzaida Deleon brings this action against Defendant Dollar Tree Stores, Inc., her former employer, alleging state-law gender discrimination, sexual harassment/hostile work environment, and retaliation claims pursuant to the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60(a)(1) et seq. See Doc. 1, Ex. A. Plaintiff initially filed the action in state court, but Defendant removed it to this Court on May 19, 2016 on the grounds of diversity jurisdiction. Doc. 1. Defendant then filed a motion to compel arbitration and dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq, or in the alternative, to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration. Docs. 15-16. This Ruling resolves that motion.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was initially hired by Defendant at its Waterford, CT store on or about August 10, 2014. Doc. 1, Ex. A at 1 ¶ 4. In August 2015, Plaintiff alleges that an incident occurred between her, Tiffany Griffin, and Rafael Rosado, both managers of the store. Id. at 1-2 ¶¶ 5-9. The next day, a coworker informed Plaintiff about a derogatory sexual comment made by Tiffany Griffin about Plaintiff and Rafael Rosado. Id. at 1-2 ¶ 7. Plaintiff contacted a Human Resources employee, who eventually came to the store to meet with Plaintiff but did not focus on resolving or otherwise addressing the incident. Id. at 2-3 ¶¶ 9-15. Plaintiff called out of work the next scheduled day after this meeting and was told by an assistant manager that Defendant would contact her. Id. at 3 ¶¶ 16-18. Plaintiff was thereafter not given any shifts by Defendant while Defendant continued to employ Tiffany Griffin. Id. at 3 ¶¶ 19-20.

         Defendant implemented an arbitration program in 2014. Doc. 16-1, Declaration of Steven Pearson ("Pearson Decl.") ¶¶ 4-5. Associates hired on or after October 6, 2014 were required to participate in the arbitration program as a condition of employment. Id. ¶ 6. All associates, like Plaintiff, hired prior to October 6, 2014, were required to submit an opt-out form either electronically or by mail to avoid being including in the arbitration program. Id. ¶ 7. The deadline to opt-out was May 31, 2015. Id. In April 2015, Defendant sent each store manager detailed instructions and information regarding the arbitration program and the steps to be taken with regard to associates that had a right to opt-out (i.e. associates hired prior to October 6, 2014). Id. ¶ 8. Pursuant to these instructions, every associate was required to access the arbitration program's website, which had all of the information regarding the arbitration program including the Mutual Agreement to Arbitrate Claims ("Arbitration Agreement"). Id. ¶¶ 9-10; Pearson Decl. Ex. A-2. A flyer was required to be placed in each store that also contained express information regarding how to opt-out and the deadline for opting-out, May 31, 2015. Pearson Decl. ¶ 10; Pearson Decl. Ex. A-3.

         Associates also had to acknowledge receipt of the Arbitration Agreement by accessing the website and clicking a box by April 24, 2015. Pearson Decl. ¶ 12; Pearson Decl. Ex. A-2. Defendant's records reveal that Plaintiff electronically accessed the information regarding the arbitration program twice on April 16, 2015.[1] Pearson Decl. ¶ 13; Pearson Decl. Ex. B. Plaintiff did not opt-out of the Arbitration Agreement.

         The Arbitration Agreement expressly provides that: "The Parties agree to the resolution by arbitration of all claims or controversies . . . arising out of or related to Associate's employment (or its termination) . . . that Dollar Tree may have against Associate or that the Associate may have against . . . (1) Dollar Tree." Pearson Decl. Ex. C at 1. This expressly included "claims for . . . retaliation or discrimination (including . . . sex)." Id. The last page of the Arbitration Agreement contains clauses detailing that the associate acknowledges that he or she has carefully read the agreement, been given the opportunity to discuss it with legal counsel, and understands that he or she is giving up the right to a jury trial. Id. at 4. It also states that the "[c]onsideration" for the agreement is "[t]he promises by Dollar Tree and by Associate to arbitrate disputes, rather than litigate them before courts or other bodies, " which "provide[s] consideration for each other." Id. Finally, the Arbitration Agreement provides that the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") will govern the interpretation and enforcement of the agreement. Id. at 1.

         II. Standard of Review

          "The FAA creates a 'body of federal substantive law of arbitrability, applicable to any arbitration agreement within the coverage of the Act." In re Am. Express Fin. Advisors Sec. Litig., 672 F.3d 113, 127 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983)). It "establishes a national policy favoring arbitration when the parties contract for that mode of dispute resolution" and "calls for the application, in state as well as federal courts, of federal substantive law regarding arbitration." Id. (quoting Preston v. Ferrer, 552 U.S. 346, 349 (2008)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The FAA generally applies to employment agreements. Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105, 119 (2001). There is a liberal policy favoring arbitration agreements, but parties cannot submit to arbitration disputes they did not so agree to submit. Am. Express, 672 F.3d at 127. However, any doubts concerning the scope of an agreement to arbitrate "should be resolved in favor of arbitration" and courts are required "to construe arbitration clauses as broadly as possible." Id. at 128 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         In the context of a motion to compel arbitration brought pursuant to the FAA, this Court "applies a standard similar to that applicable for a motion for summary judgment." Bensadoun v. Jobe-Riat, 316 F.3d 171, 175 (2d Cir. 2003). "If there is an issue of fact as to the making of the agreement for arbitration, then a trial is necessary." Id. (citing 9 U.S.C. § 4). The Second Circuit follows a two-part test to determine whether claims are subject to arbitration. Am. Express, 672 F.3d at 128. First, a court considers "whether the parties have entered into a valid agreement to arbitrate." Id. (citations omitted). Second, if the parties have entered into such an agreement, the court considers "whether the dispute at issue comes within the scope of the arbitration agreement." Id. (citations omitted).

         Although the FAA creates a body of federal substantive law regarding arbitration, "in evaluating whether the parties have entered in a valid arbitration agreement, the court must look to state law principles." Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, U.S., LLC v. Nackel, 346 F.3d 360, 364 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Hottle v. BDO Seidman LLP, 268 Conn. 694, 704-05 (2004) (quoting and citing, inter alia, Cap Gemini, 346 F.3d at 364). Under Connecticut law, [2] in order for a contract to be valid there must be a meeting of the minds. Helenese v. Oracle Corp., No. 09-351, 2010 WL 670172, at *3 (D. Conn. Feb. 19, 2010) (citing Gibbs v. Conn. Gen. Life Ins., 97-0567009, 1998 WL 123010, at *2 (Conn. Super. Ct. March 3, 1998)). "For a promise to be enforceable against the promisor, the promisee must have given consideration for the promise, defined as 'a benefit to the party promising, or a loss or detriment to the party to whom the promise is made.'" Id. (quoting Gibbs, 1998 WL 123010, at *2).

         Even without a written contract, such "a legally binding agreement may be inferred from the parties' conduct when that conduct shows a tacit understanding, " given the circumstances. D'Antuono v. Serv. Road Corp., 789 F.Supp.2d 308, 324 (D. Conn. 2011) (citing Sandella v. Dick Corp., 53 Conn.App. 213, 219 (1999)). Moreover, "[t]he FAA generally requires federal courts to enforce even implied agreements to arbitrate, so long as they are set forth in some writing." Id. (citing 9 U.S.C. § 2 and Genesco, Inc. v. T. Kakiuchi & Co., 815 F.2d 840, 845 (2d Cir. 1987)). Thus, if an employee is presented with a written arbitration agreement, it may be irrelevant that the employee never actually signed it if the employee's consent can be reasonably inferred from the employee's conduct. See id.

         III. Discussion

         The Court now addresses each of the two-parts of the inquiry required by this Circuit to determine if this action must be dismissed or arbitration compelled: (1) whether this Arbitration Agreement is valid, and (2) whether the disputes at issue are the subject of the Arbitration Agreement. See Am. Express, 672 F.3d at 128. The Court ...


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